If I hadn’t gone to a small, private Catholic school full of quirky teachers, I wouldn’t have had the encouragement I had to write.

Maybe I would make more money if I’d gone to public school. I don’t know.

I do know that I wouldn’t have had bizarre memories of a principal who, nearing the end of his tenure as head of the school, would surprise the teachers by walking into our rooms to teach us lessons that seemed very disconnected to anything at the moment.

One day, we were supposed to learn how to make gravy. We were in sixth grade. It might have had to do with measurements, but we were already in pre-algebra by then. Mr. Mark probably wanted to share something useful with us.

Despite liking gravy at the time, I found it much more interesting when he popped in our room to tell us about the severest of all bad words. He wrote the abbreviation on the chalkboard.

I was surprised that the word didn’t begin with an “F.” 

It was, however, a multi-word insult, and I’d never thought much about it, or why it was so bad.

Mr. Mark tried very hard to explain to us why he knew that he was right. When he was a soldier during the Korean War, he watched someone get sliced across the face with a metal lunch tray in the mess hall. The fight began because the man who used the word wasn’t insulting his buddy — he was insulting his mother.

Sitting in that classroom chair was exciting. I’d never had an authority figure, much less a school administrator, lecture on forbidden words. I liked it very much.

Mr. Mark was strange, but some of his far-out talks made sense to me. He told the class that there was cussing, which is lazy but isn’t meant to be harmful. These are the adjectives and adverbs and interjections that pepper colloquial speech.

Then, there’s swearing. Words meant to tear down another person or express anger could be the same as those used for cussing. It was the attitude that changed.

Cursing, by far, he said, was the worst. That’s wanting someone to go to hell or have very bad things happen to them.

None of them are necessary, but it’s important to know what you’re dealing with and whether or not you should be offended when you hear them.

This is what I remember from his short sermon.

Some people don’t blink at a slew of expletives while others put down a book or an article at the first indiscretion. I tend to be in the former camp, because I’ve cussed and sworn. I might have cursed once, but in my writing I try not to use what people consider foul language. There are other words. But there are times I find these words useful. Sometimes it’s just being accurate, as in the case of quotations. Other times, it’s relaying a sentiment.